Sunday, 21 August 2011

Clay, Felt Tips, Grand Theft Auto and Other Scientific Things

This post is about my night shift week. Now when I first heard the phrase “night shift week” I groaned, but it’s actually been really good. Let me tell you why.

The sleep lab runs for 3 nights so that’s Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights so Monday was a normal day for me so 8.30-6 in the office as usual. That day was spent phoning round all 4 patients to check that they remember that they are coming in and to ask them not to have any caffeine from then onwards. This was really bad news for one of the patients as he was a 6 cups of coffee a day man and had been for like 50 years or something. Oh and also I have to tell them not to eat and tomato, banana or turkey on Thursday because it mucks up the results on that night. Apparently there’s a chemical present in them that can mimic melatonin which is being measured on Thursday night. But all of them remembered they were coming in and I even managed to get a couple excited about it! 

Tuesday I was in at 3pm. I had to swing by the café where the patient’s dinner was made to pick it up and then carry on into the lab. Then we had to do really hi-tech things like making the beds and setting up the paperwork. At about 5pm the patients start to come into the lab and we make them comfortable and settled. Dinner was next and then the fun bit of putting all the electrodes on them. Its a lot of fun putting the head electrodes on because you use this clay that dries in their hair to keep the electrode in place. They have 12 on their head, some heart monitors, a muscle sensor on each leg, respiratory bands across their chest, a position sensor to see what side they are lying on and urm oh yea an oxygen saturation monitor on their finger and a tube clipped to their nose monitoring their exhalations. So they look pretty funny with all these stickers all over them and all the wires coming off them into this little battery pack they have to hold. 

High tech neuropsych equipment
Then they get to do some fun fun testing. Some of them quite enjoy the testing but some of them seem to get quite annoyed by it all. One of them is a figure we give them to draw and we want to look at what order they draw in so we swap the colour of the pen every so often so we use felt tips. There’s another test that’s a night time driving simulator. It’s a quiet night time road and they have to just catch up to a lorry in front of them while staying in the speed limit, then break then head off again. Sounds easy right? Wrong. It’s really hard to steer the car and a lot of the time the patients just drive straight off the road and crash. So it’s more like grand theft auto – pensioner’s edition. 

After that most of them settle down and go to bed but as they are plugged into the wall for the power pack for the electrodes, it means they need to ask to be unhooked when they want to go to the loo. So there are at least 2 people in the sleep lab working. Fortunately on Tuesday I was only there till 11.30pm so I stayed till they were all tucked up in bed (no bed time story required) and then I could get the bus home. Wednesday was harder. I had to work from 8pm till 7.30am the next morning. All the departments in the building give us little jobs to do overnight, mainly photocopying and binding and things but a lot of the time I could spend doing whatever I like so I was on Facebook a lot which was great because even though it was 4am here, it was 7pm at home so a lot of friends back home were online and I could chat and let them know what I was getting up too. But I spent some of the time just watching their brain waves as they sleep. Also you can see their breathing and when they snore so that’s funny sometimes. 

Going home at 8am in the morning is… interesting. I was so tired I missed my bus stop and because it was the morning rush hour traffic the traffic was mad and a lot of the bus stops were full so I ended up miles away from where I wanted to be! I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice so I walked back the rest of the way which took me another 20 mins. Got home and just face planted the bed.
Thursday I didn’t stat till 11.30pm but I was there till everything was done the following morning. So it was another night of Facebook, reading and photocopying. I downloaded and scored some of the watched they have been wearing which monitor light and activity levels for the 2 weeks before the patients come into the sleep lab. Some of their sleep patterns are just plain weird. But I have to download the data and highlight the times of sleep and rest from the activity, light and the sleep diaries they have been keeping. 

The night passed in a half-asleep blur. At about 6am they started stirring but it wasn’t till about 7am that they were all awake. Breakfast, showers and packing seemed to take them forever but finally they were all ready to leave. Goodbyes were said and then it was just getting all the little things done after. The beds were stripped, the laundrette was called to come pick up the linens, the dishwasher was put on with all the plates and bowls etc. and everything was put away. All finally done and I got home about 9.30am. I blinked and then it was 5pm. No, wait, that’s not true. Throughout the day I was getting calls from my housemates about these house viewings we had and forms to fill in etc. but that’s more than enough writing today so I will talk about houses later. 

So that was my week this week. It’s really good to be able to do some hands on science. I try to ask as many questions as I can so I can understand all the processes involved and I’m learning a lot. And it’s not just my science background I’m drawing on, lots of other things like my time being a floor manager in retail has helped a lot with the interactions with the patients and being able to be friendly and maintain the professionalism that the lab needs, and my psychology A-Level helps me understand some of the testing involved. I seem to be made for this job which means I can have a lot of fun with it but it’s still stretching me to new places. I’m looking forwards to seeing where else it will take me.